As floodwaters rose outside, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers inside MD Anderson maintained a laser-sharp focus on their No. 1 priority: patients. A dedicated group of nearly 1,000 employees remained on-site for several days to ensure consistent and quality care for the more than 500 patients and their families inside the hospital. Following are a few examples of how health care providers delivered timely treatments without missing a beat.
Patients who miss radiation therapy sessions during cancer treatment face the increased risk that their disease will return.
“Even if they eventually complete their course of radiation treatment, their cancer is still more likely to return if they miss scheduled treatments,” says Joe Herman, M.D., Radiation Oncology division head ad interim. “Some cancer cells multiply very quickly. Time is of the essence.”
Herman and his team knew that despite the Houston flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, they had to continue radiation treatments for those patients who could safely reach the hospital.
MD Anderson’s outpatient services were suspended the week of the flood, but because of the urgent nature of radiation treatments, Radiation Oncology staff who could physically reach the hospital drove in and spent long hours on-site providing treatment to patients.
Fifteen to 20% of the department worked at Mays Clinic, the Main Building, the Proton Therapy Center and MD Anderson outpatient clinics in The Woodlands, Bay Area and Katy, providing an average of four radiation treatments to each patient during the week.
“Our staff left their own families and homes and braved high water and uncertain travel conditions out of dedication to our patients,” says Albert Koong, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Radiation Oncology. “Some had homes that flooded, but they came to work and provided care to our patients.”
“It’s very important that radiation therapy be delivered frequently and regularly. The staff mobilized and joined forces to ensure that happened,” says Herman, whose wife gave birth a week before the storm.
Starting Tuesday, Aug. 29, the team treated all hospitalized inpatients who required palliative radiation treatment to ease the symptoms and pain caused by their cancer. A larger team provided limited outpatient radiation treatment services on Wednesday, triaging patients according to clinical need. By Thursday, the Radiation Oncology Division was back to full service, offering care to all radiotherapy patients. Additional clinics were held on Saturday for those patients who couldn’t get to the hospital during the week.
Despite the disruption of Hurricane Harvey, more than 500 patients were treated at the Mays Clinic, the Main Clinic, the Proton Therapy Center and at MD Anderson Houston-area locations in The Woodlands, Bay Area, and Katy.
“We operated at full service the week of the flood, even though only 15 to 20% of our department members were able to physically make it on-site,” says Koong. “Those who couldn’t come in worked from home and contributed in whatever way they could.”
Investigational Cancer Therapeutics
A program that enrolls cancer patients in first-in-human trials of experimental medications faced tough challenges in the aftermath of Harvey.
The Investigational Cancer Therapeutics Department and its Clinical Center for Targeted Therapy rallied to reschedule appointments for all its 200 patients when floodwaters made roads impassable and prevented some patients and staff from reaching the hospital.
The problem was made worse when team members learned that the Clinical and Translational Research Center, where dosing takes place, was damaged by floodwater and declared unusable.
Over three days, a of team physicians, coordinators, schedulers, nurses, and support staff gathered in MD Anderson’s Faculty Center, where they reviewed each patient’s medical records and developed plans to ensure that all received their medications when and how the drug trials’ protocols dictated.
“Our team contacted all of our patients to determine where they could be moved to meet the constraints of the current situation, the available institutional resources and the protocol specifics of the clinical trials in which the patients were enrolled,” says David Hong, M.D., professor and deputy chair of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics and associate vice president for Clinical Research. “We opened extra Sunday clinics, found creative solutions to dosing oral patients, and worked closely with our colleagues in Diagnostic Imaging, the Clinical and Translational Research Center, and Ambulatory Treatment Center to make the process as seamless as possible.”
Hong says the effort to ensure trials stayed on track and patients got their medications required “a lot of coffee, pizza, and Chinese food, but it was a great demonstration of what teamwork can accomplish.”
Nearly 1,000 employees remained on-site to ensure consistent and quality care for the patients and their families inside the hospital.
Timing is everything for patients with blood cancers like leukemia, which can prevent the body from producing an inadequate number of platelets – cells in the blood that help it clot. Without regularly timed infusions of donor platelets, patients can experience uncontrolled bleeding.
Wierda spent nights at the hospital, handling clinical operations for his department during the challenging time, “just like the days when I was a medical resident,” taking care of hospitalized patients.
He and the department’s staff also quickly developed a plan to phone outpatients who were at home but needed care, mainly those who had acute leukemia or a recent stem cell transplant.
“We knew these patients likely needed blood or platelet transfusions so we scheduled them to come in on Tuesday, two days after flooding began, for labs and transfusions,” he says. “Many had difficulty getting to the hospital because of flooded streets, but about 35 made it in. Nearly all of them received transfusions.”
On Wednesday, Wierda and his team members treated more than twice that number, as more patients and staff were able to make it in.
They opened a Hematologic Malignancy outpatient clinic on Thursday to care for critical patients who needed transfusions, IV fluids and antibiotics.
“From the time the storm began, we were able to maintain an exceptional level of care for our hospitalized patients, says Wierda, a veteran of three Houston hurricanes.
“This experience has highlighted for me the critical importance of everyone who works in the hospital, including housekeeping, phlebotomists, laboratory and radiology technicians, pharmacists, nurses, clerical staff, physician assistants, and doctors,” he says. “We can’t take good care of patients without everyone’s support.